A Personal Statement for My PatientsDr. John Q. Cook's Philosophy and Personal Statment toward Plastic Surgery
I am fortunate to have grown up in a home where creativity was encouraged. From an early age I was exposed to a variety of creative influences. It was taken for granted that music, art, and written expression were highly important. I spent the first five years of my life in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. Old Town at that time was largely a haven for artists, writers, and other imaginative individuals, so this was just a natural part of my early environment. When I was six we moved to the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. We lived a few blocks from Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, and I developed an early appreciation of architecture. I am certain that this contributed to my interest in visual form. One of my favorite activities during grade school was constructing intricately detailed drawings and building model ships.
Two further interests developed during high school in Oak Park. I participated enthusiastically in endurance sports: track, cross country, and long distance bicycling. These activities provided me with important lessons about the value of perseverance and working toward a long-term goal. They gave me an additional reserve of energy which helped me through the many years of surgical residency. Also at this time, I developed a serious interest in creative writing and wrote a number of short stories.
College at Yale provided me with a wonderful learning environment and further developed my interests. I was involved in an in-depth program known as Directed Studies, which was designed, in part, to produce the next generation of humanities professors for the East Coast colleges. About half way through college I began to seriously examine the possibility of a career in medicine. This surprised many of my closest friends, as they had supposed I would be a writer. There was also the practical issue, that the necessary prerequisites for medical school would have to be obtained in very short order. Fortunately the sciences always came easily for me, so I was able to master the premedical requirements, yet maintain my major in English. This was important to me, since Yale was one of the world’s leading centers for the study of literature, and I did not want to lose the experience of studying under such first rate minds as Harold Bloom, Marie Borroff, and others. When I applied to medical school, I did so with a sense that I would become a surgeon. This was based on my experience with family friends who were leading neurosurgeons and heart surgeons. I was privileged to spend time with these individuals and gain the benefit of their insight, and get an inside look at the world of the operating room.
I was fortunate to discover plastic surgery relatively early in medical school at Northwestern. I felt an immediate affinity for the field. From that point forward everything I did during my training was oriented toward plastic surgery, to the occasional frustration of my teachers in different fields.
When I applied to surgical residencies, I intentionally choose the more difficult path, with a complete training in general surgery prior to plastic surgery. Although these eight years of advanced training tested even the endurance of a distance runner, I know that my patients benefit from the breadth of experience that I obtained. I believe that there is no substitute for a strong background when patient safety is concerned. Although it was known that I would ultimately become a plastic surgeon, I was treated well by my professors of general surgery at Rush. I was selected to be the Chief Surgical Resident in my final year and received both the General Surgery Department Award and the Surgical Sciences Award for Research. Also at this time, I obtained a Master’s degree based on a year of scientific research related to plastic surgery.
I returned to Northwestern for my residency in Plastic Surgery. It was truly a pleasure to develop my skills in all aspects of this wonderful and diverse field. Already at this time I had a sense of the areas within plastic surgery where I would ultimately apply my talents and energies. I developed a great interest in breast reconstruction. I enjoyed the technical challenge of the work and also appreciated the tremendous help that this brought to patients. I knew that this would be the major focus of the reconstructive aspect of my practice. I was also deeply interested in aesthetic plastic surgery. I have always felt that this is the most artistic part of the field of plastic surgery, so it was very much aligned with my interests going back to my earliest years. Here, I felt, was an area where one could fuse technical expertise with artistic vision. I also began to realize that current techniques in the field, although helpful, did not always obtain an entirely natural result. I sensed the possibility for innovation.
When I completed my plastic surgery training, I knew that I wanted to remain in the Chicago area. Friends and family are very important to me. I was fortunate to be welcomed back to Rush University Medical Center in the Department of Plastic Surgery as an independent private practitioner. This remains the ideal setting for me. I enjoy the intellectual give and take of the academic setting, and I enjoy teaching others. I also feel that my patients benefit significantly through my academic affiliation. Rush is almost unique in the Chicago area for allowing its surgeons the freedom of independent private practice. This was critical to me as well, since I focus on a high-quality, service-oriented approach to my patients that seems to be very difficult to obtain when doctors are hospital employees.
I began my independent private practice in 1988, and I feel that I am truly blessed to practice in a field that is so aligned with my interests and abilities. I am grateful for the freedom to focus on the areas of plastic surgery in which I find the greatest interest facial aesthetic surgery, plastic surgery of the breasts, and advanced body contour surgery. This focused practice allows me to concentrate on the nuances of each operation. I have always been interested in improving the process of everything that I set my activities to, rather than “just getting the work done and getting out to the golf course.”
I am also blessed to have a wonderful group of patients. At every facility where I have operated, the staff remarks, “Dr. Cook, you have the nicest patients of any plastic surgeon here.” I can claim no credit for this other than good fortune. Since so much of my practice comes from referrals, the process tends to be self-replicating, since nice people tend to have nice friends, whom they refer to see me.
I continue to have a wide range of interests, which is consistent with my basic personality and early influences. I do not feel that these interests in any way compete with my practice but, in fact, believe that they help me to be a better plastic surgeon. My primary focus is my family. During my free time I spend as much time as possible with my wife and children.
My interests are varied. Kathy and I greatly enjoy music, especially the Lyric Opera and Jazz. We also enjoy restoring historic houses. When we lived in Chicago, we restored a row house from the 1880’s. We are currently involved in the restoration of our 1911 home in Winnetka. I also continue to build upon my long-standing interest in economic theory, political philosophy and investment theory. Perhaps this particular interest derives in some obscure way from my relative, the philosopher David Hume. I also served on the Winnetka Landmark Preservation Commission. This is a natural outgrowth of my interest in architecture and a specific sense that it is very important to preserve all cultural and artistic heritage for the next generation. A recently reawakened passion is that for French History and culture. I am stumbling my way through the complexity of the French language.
I truly believe that a diversity of interests makes me a better plastic surgeon. I am fortunate to find work in a field that is so in harmony with my basic value system. Plastic surgery is a source of endless fascination for me. I enjoy the mastery of the technical demands and the dexterity required for the field. I appreciate the opportunity to apply my sense of aesthetics and form. I greatly enjoy the voluntary and highly personal interaction that occurs between a patient and his/her cosmetic surgeon. Of all the surgical disciplines, plastic surgery is the least given to rigidity and dogma. This has provided me room for individual vision and creativity.